UK Football

‘You can see he wants to be great.’ The time is coming for UK’s Bowden.

Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. (1) returned the opening kickoff as host UK defeated Tennessee 29-26 at Kroger Field on Saturday Oct. 28, 2017 in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. (1) returned the opening kickoff as host UK defeated Tennessee 29-26 at Kroger Field on Saturday Oct. 28, 2017 in Lexington, Ky.

Every week there are new flashes.

Fans saw one Saturday when freshman Lynn Bowden took a direct snap and threw a near-perfect pass to fellow wide receiver Tavin Richardson against Tennessee.

“Everybody was pleased with that throw, but we were in awe this past week because he threw the ball even better than that all week in practice,” Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said on Monday of Bowden. “He hit people in stride and really has a good arm.”

Fans have seen flashes in the return game, where Bowden has five kickoff returns of 30 yards or more, second most in the Southeastern Conference.

There was a flash in the loss at Mississippi State where the 6-foot-1, 190-pound slot receiver from Youngstown, Ohio, went up and made an impressive catch late in the game.

Fans are clamoring for more Bowden, for more than just flashes from the player who is second on the team in all-purpose yards at 67.5 per game.

That more will continue to come, Stoops said.

Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. (1) ran the ball as UK defeated Eastern Michigan 24-20 at Kroger Field on Saturday Sept. 30, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Mark Mahan

People think a playmaker like Bowden can just line up at wide receiver and a quarterback can just throw him the ball, Stoops said of the freshman, who produced a combined 57 touchdowns while running for 2,277 yards and throwing for 1,366 more his senior season at Warren Harding last year.

There’s more to it than that, though, especially for a player who has never lined up at wide receiver until this season.

“That’s a big thing that probably doesn’t get mentioned enough that he’s never played wide receiver,” Stoops said recently when asked about Bowden’s touches.

When he arrived at Kentucky — nearly a week after preseason camp started and months after some of the other freshmen — Bowden was “really raw” as a wide receiver, position coach Lamar Thomas said.

UK football coach Mark Stoops, running-back Benny Snell Jr., and the rest of the UK football team celebrates a 29-26 win over Tennessee at Kroger Field.

Running routes, understanding leverage, how to get in and out of breaks, how to create and then maintain separation from his defender. Those were all things that Bowden has been learning, his coaches said.

“An athlete like Lynn, it’s not going to take him that long,” Thomas recently said of Bowden, who has caught eight passes for 106 yards so far. “He’s learning and he’s getting better every day. You can see the strides. … He’s asking a lot of questions. You can see he wants to be great.”

Bowden said he’s worked at different receiver spots. He’s getting comfortable in the rotation taking direct snaps (running the ball seven times for 27 yards).

He’s working hard on kickoff returns, where he’s fifth in the conference in average per return (23.94). His 50.9 return yards per game are third best in the league.

Kentucky wide receiver Lynn Bowden might still be waiting for his first collegiate touchdown, but his coaches are excited about what he’s going to do this season. Alex Slitz

“I just take my time, let it flow and learn,” the freshman said before the bye week. “It’s been an adjustment from the speed of the college game from high school. Big step, so I’m still working on it.”

And just when Bowden has the base plays down, there are minor alterations to them each week depending on the opponent. So there constantly are new things to learn, too.

Stoops said: “The nice thing is that Lynn is very instinctual and he's smart so he picks things up.”

Kentucky wide receiver Tavin Richardson made two big catches in the win over Tennessee. That wasn’t an accident said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterback Stephen Johnson.

So don’t be surprised to see the packages continue to grow for the natural playmaker, who is getting ready to face an Ole Miss team that has allowed five kickoff returns of 30 yards or more and three for 40-plus yards.

Bowden is a guy you want to get the ball to in every way you can, Cats quarterback Stephen Johnson said.

There will be more and more flashes.

“He’s special; he’s a special talent,” Johnson said a couple weeks ago. “The elusiveness he has, I love getting Lynn the ball. … We’ve got some stuff in the works for him.”

Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, former Tennessee assistant coach, talks about UK’s 29-26 win over the Vols.

Next game

Mississippi at Kentucky

4 p.m. Saturday (SEC)